It’s no secret that the coral reefs of the world are diminishing. From climate change to overfishing, one of Earth’s strongest ecosystems is being destroyed by countless factors. And just to make matters worse, a recently discovered threat may top the list – sunscreen.
For decades, research has proven the vitalness behind basic sunscreen usage. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. With that statistic alone, there’s no denying the importance, but what environmental cost are we willing to pay?
Should I Not Use Sunscreen Anymore?
To clarify a bit, not all sunscreens are harmful. The two active ingredients in question, oxybenzone and octinoxate, are the main perpetrators and have been linked directly to increased bleaching, genetic damage to the reefs and it’s marine organisms and ultimately irreversible death to the coral. In fact, Hawaii, one of the world’s most popular tourist areas known for its coral reefs, signed the country’s first bill banning sunscreens containing the two destructive chemicals starting January 1st, 2021. The island’s ground-breaking decision even influenced the Western Pacific nation of Palau to take action and many others are expected to join the movement.
So How Am I to Cover Up?
The bills don’t take effect for a couple years but transitioning now will greatly benefit the coral reefs. Although oxybenzone and octinoxate are two of the most common active ingredients found in sunscreens, there are other ingredients that are dermatologist recommended and considered environmentally safe by researchers.
Dr. Monica Scheel, a board-certified dermatologist in Kona, stated that, “Your best sun protection ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.” Also, remember when searching to look for products that are “non-nano”, such as Badger, Coola and MDSolarSciences, because nanoparticles can be consumed by the corals and ultimately cause death.
Along with seeking shade whenever possible and limiting sun exposure, choosing UPF 50+ clothing is also a highly recommended move. Dr. Henry W. Lim, the president of the American Academy of Dermatology, considers UPF 50+ clothing just as effective as sunscreen.
For the environmental specialists, it’s simple. Craig Downs, the executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory that has studied the damage caused by sunscreen on the coral reefs, said, “For women in a bikini, 85% of her body will be covered in sunscreen. She can reduce that by 50% just by wearing a sun shirt.”
Obviously, sunscreen isn’t the only detrimental force attacking the coral reefs of the world, but it is one of the most controllable. That reasoning alone should be more than enough to encourage us all to reevaluate our approach to protecting ourselves in the sun. Together, we can protect the coral reefs.